Ten leading female folk artists have come together to produce a rich, thoughtful and varied set of songs.

Label: Navigator Records
Time: 12 tracks / 56 minutes

 “Songs of Separation isn’t really about separation,” admits project creator Jenny Hill in the liner notes to this feast of female folk artists, explaining that it really looks across borders “to remind us that we’re all so much more connected than we seem.”

Effectively a protest directed at the Scottish Independence lobby, it features five English and five Scottish musicians – including leading lights like Eliza Carthy and Karine Polwart, together with Moulettes collaborator Kate Young and Mary MacMaster – working together during a week on the island of Eigg to arrange and record this dozen songs.

(I say, “working together,” but Carthy’s track could just as well have been taken off a solo album.)

Separation is used very loosely, and not just geographically, the songs also dealing with such issues as death, the loss of home, the gap between rich and poor, and the disconnect between human beings and the living world. It only appears inside the packaging, but the project is sub-titled ‘Reflections on the Parting of Ways.’

There is tremendous variety here, all within folk traditions, with traditional Gaelic songs, a touch of music hall on “London Lights” and two à capella tracks, recorded in a cave. When you get such a creative bunch of artists together, the result is often an impressive richness of detail. That is shown here, from the recording of the corncrake that opens the disc to the amalgamation of tunes in "Over the Border," the history encoded in several of the songs, and the depth to which the concept is explored in many of the lyrics.

The outright highlight for me is the very Gaelic-structured “Sad Am I,” with a compelling rhythm, memorable tune and the inventive use of backing vocals.

But not far behind is a colourful account of "Echo Mocks the Corncrake,” with its short, wordless refrain. “Poor Man’s Lamentation” has one of the strongest tunes.  The fiddle-fuelled “Over the Border” medley would have made a great finale, but that honour goes to the reflective, banjo-led “The Road Less Travelled.”

With these artists, the playing and singing will always be of the highest order, but the project (more about it here) works well as a whole and is highly recommended to folk-lovers.

Derek Walker